My Favorite Things, July 2009

The Bureau Staff talks about what they’ve been doing outside. Yes, we sometimes go outside.

Northern Indiana winters are brutal by almost any standard, and even during spring and fall, the thoughts of lake effect snow and thirty-below temperatures aren’t that far off. So we permanent residents try to savor those three months completely untouched by winter’s long shadow. In my case, this means going to Lake Michigan as often as possible.

I’ve lived within a two hours’ drive of the ocean for most of my life, and when I moved out to the Midwest in 2007, I wondered what I would be giving up besides the prospect of freshly caught seafood. So I consider it a minor miracle that northern Indiana is so close to Benton Harbor, Michigan City, New Buffalo, and the dozen or so small towns along the Lake Michigan coastline that could stand in for Oregon’s Newport or Massachusetts’s Manchester-by-the-Sea. Maybe the bodies aren’t as hard or the surfing as good as along the Pacific Coast, but I am there to get tanned, go swimming, and escape for a few hours from life in the Rust Belt. And although I haven’t been able to find a good corndog vendor yet, I still consider my trips to Lake Michigan time well-spent. – Bureau Writer Darryl Campbell


I started indoor rock climbing last spring, but climbing outdoors, which I did for the first time earlier this summer, was an entirely different monster. If indoor climbing is like fighting Godzilla, then getting outside is like fighting Godzilla’s older brother who’s taller, more dangerous, more rewarding, and doesn’t have clearly marked hand holds.

I’m a fan of any athletic activity where being lanky and weighing nothing is an advantage rather than a disadvantage; factor in the relatively inexpensive basic equipment costs and you’ve got a sport that even the laziest of people (read: me, maybe Jordan) can enjoy. Just make sure that you’re smarter than me and double back your harness correctly — over instead of under, which effectively undoes your buckle. But that won’t happen to you, unless you’re the stupidest person on Earth (read: me, maybe Jordan). – Bureau Editor Kevin Nguyen


Whether you’ve been hiking uphill or jumping from city to city on your world tour, there’s nothing more important than getting a good night’s sleep. Let the mattress be as hard as you like and play the music as loud as you want (provided you’re in a hostel). The primary component to my sleeping success is the right sleepwear.

While I have owned a zero-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag for quite some time, high altitude and winter camping is not something I’ve done much here in Europe. Summers are hot and sticky which makes a normal sleeping bag nice and sweaty. Especially with their bulky carrying size, sleeping bags are often more of a hindrance than a help in the summer. That’s why I’m happy that the people at Design Salt have created the COCOON TravelSheets.

Made of a special moisture-wicking fabric, the COCOON is lightweight for your long days on foot, and cool and dry for your evenings lying horizontal. It’s a perfect alternative to sheets while hostel jumping (those normally cost you €5) and great for those hot sweaty evenings on Isle Royal, MI or the Boundary Waters in MN. – Bureau Writer Locke McKenzie


I know these are unpleasant times. Recession’s on; heat-wave’s on. We all just want to stay inside with the air-conditioning cranked and play videogames all day. But, you know, come on — it’s summer. You can play your videogames outside.

Yes, with money tight and the sun shining, now is the perfect time to invest in the pinnacle of modern frugal gaming: the Game Boy Advance. You can pick up the sleek SP model for $30 on Amazon, or you can take advantage of the season’s extended daylight to grab the super-cheap original GBA without worrying about its notoriously dark screen. Or, better yet, just ask your nerd friends if they’ve got one lying around the house. Odds are pretty high.

You can take advantage of a sprawling catalog of amazing, cheap games. From Metroid to Wario Ware to Mario & Luigi to Castlevania, the Game Boy Advance offers a lineup on par with any system ten times as expensive. Plus, like the SNES before it, the GBA’s 2-D graphics lend its titles a timeless quality. Also, crucially, the GBA can be used inside with the AC, safe from the cruel torture devices advocated elsewhere in the feature. – Bureau Editor Nick Martens


In my coastal hometown of Santa Barbara, CA, the beginning of summer is all about enjoying the gifts of the nearby water. That’s why this month, my favorite thing is the Pacific Ocean. Even when she tries to shoo us off with a frequent marine layer (known, thanks to a local tendency for pathetic fallacy, as “June Gloom”), it’s hard to spend a day in this town without enjoying the ocean’s many charms.

At times of aesthetic reflection, one can appreciate scenes of picturesque sailboats scattered before the horizon, or dolphins smoothly cresting above the surface. On a more practical front, the ocean keeps the town’s tourism industry alive — for better or worse — as it sits ripe for exploration by kitschy rides like the truck-cum-boat “Land Shark” or Captain Don’s Pirate Cruises.

And for yours truly, the ocean exhilarates unlike any other outdoor space. Whether it’s 8 a.m. dips in the rocky shallows of Hendry’s Beach or bodysurfing along the extended whitewater at Santa Claus Lane, these local spots manage to transmit some of the kinetic energy of the greater Pacific to those lucky enough to jump in.

All of which begs the question why I own no swimwear and am reduced to splashing around in spandex bike shorts. Normally I’d be ashamed at my own breach of So-Cal beach style, but when I return to Washington State in July with a mid-thigh farmer’s tan, I’ll be glad I came to my hometown unprepared, and left with a souvenir of its greatest asset. – Bureau Writer Daniel Adler